Interior

As the Chrysler Group, which owns Jeep, grew quickly on past successes, many of the interiors of its new models suffered. Cheap, bulky plastic dismally makes up most of the Liberty cabin, as it does in its sister vehicle, the Dodge Nitro.

There's no sense of richness to any of the materials save the seat fabric, which is sturdy and looks like it will hold up well over extended use. The least expensive Liberty starts at $20,330, and the 4x4 Limited model I tested started at $26,125. In that price range you can and should expect better interior execution. Other SUVs in this class, like the Mazda CX-7 and Toyota's FJ Cruiser, offer noticeably superior interior material quality at a similar price.

One other problem is that the old Liberty actually had a pretty progressive, high-quality interior for its day. My wife and I test-drove one a few years ago before ending up leasing a Grand Cherokee, and an hour into some errand-running with the new model she turned to me from the passenger seat and said, "the old Liberty was so much nicer." That's one of those easy and quick observations that can hurt buyer loyalty.

An extremely upright seating position might throw off buyers who are new to the Liberty, though the old one had a similar setup, as does the Wrangler. Think of how a bus driver sits and that's pretty much how you'll be positioned in the Liberty's driver's seat. I never felt totally comfortable in it. With the seat lowered all the way, I still felt like I was riding too high, despite having plenty of headroom. The seats were comfortable, though, and offered plenty of support. After a two-hour ride my back wasn't sore at all, which is unusual for me in non-luxury seats.

The optional Infinity stereo was lackluster. Besides poor sound clarity, there wasn't much power when turning up loud favorites. The stereo head unit also seemed glitchy; when I adjusted the bass or treble level, the display reverted to their previous setting or jumped to the radio tuner. Fiddling with the stereo is distracting enough — if it fights back, that's just more time your eyes are off the road.

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